What I did this rainy weekend

Installed a dishwasher.
The dishwasher that came with the house had a habit of peeing rusty water on the floor; our new Kenmore has been sitting in the garage for weeks waiting for inspiration. Which struck on a rainy Saturday morning; Kate watched the baby and I lay on the floor and cursed and groaned trying to get thick-walled half-inch copper supply piping to meet up with the brass inlet tube. Any analogy I’ve made previously about computer programming being like plumbing (skilled job, paid by the hour, experience counts in the details)? Yeah, I take that back. Plumbing is WAY harder. Code stays where you put it, unlike @#$@@$ thick-walled half-inch copper supply piping, which laughs at the sweat-slippery thumb pressure of mere mortals. Works now, though.

Built an AM transmitter for the Guerilla Drive-In.
I’d love to claim 100 Geek Points for doing this, but it’s really more of a seven-and-a-half-geek-point job; I built it from a very complete kit that I ordered from Antique Electronics Supply after my store-bought FM transmitter turned out to be a flop.

According to Baldwin family legend, my great-grandfather sold pressure cookers during Prohibition, along with lengths of copper pipe and explicit instructions about what NOT to do lest you find yourself in possession of a small and eficient gin still (unsurprisingly, his pressure cookers sold so well that the Chicago mob muscled in and forced him out of business.) Along the same lines, the instructions of the K-488 AM Transmitter kit explicitly advise me not to use a transmitting antenna longer than six inches, or I’ll be in violation of FCC guidelines. See, that’s the beauty of a kit, now. Honey, where do we keep the juniper berries?

Discovered a whole new level of goofy German irony.
AM transmitter kits are used by antique radio enthusiasts to send audio from their computer to their old Art Deco recievers (in fact, my transmitter tube appears to have been made in Argentina in the 1930s, so obviously it was intended for use by spies in evening wear.) So it’s kind of fitting that I discovered Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester yesterday. The Palast Orchester is a German twenties-revival band that has been covering old pop songs in the wavering falsetto delivery you associate with stratchy montages of cocktail shakers and tommy guns. My favorite right now is the cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, with a clarinet section standing in for the boom-boom clap baseline that used to shake the back of the schoolbus on the way to track meets. (Reedy voice, German accent: “…gonna make a big n-o-o-o-o-ise someday!”) I’m just disappointed I didn’t find out about this sooner.

In other weekend news, Lydia, that encyclo-pidia, now will repeat words back: “Uh-oh! Night night! Bellybutton! Damn!” (whoops, gotta keep her out of the room when I’m installing dishwashers), and continues to double in intelligence, in personality, and in cuteness in an alarming, geometrical, and overwhelmingly wonderful fashion. If you take a shower, Lydia will stick her head under the curtain, just to be sociable, and will look around in an interested manner at the soaps.

If you take her to Ikea (as we did on Sunday, which Kate may write about), she will wave her hand and deliver a bright, chirpy “hi!” to all the passers-by. Then she will fall asleep in the sling, resting her little baby head on your shoulder in a way that will make passers-by weak in the knees from the Power of Cute. Seriously, in humility: blogging is great for bragging about your nerd kit made from nazi spy parts or whatever, and the latest flavor of nerd rock you just found, and that’s fun, but how do you compare it with the act of MAKING A PERSON, a person who to all appearances bids fair to be smarter, sunnier, and better-looking than you, and how do you explain how happy, proud, delighted, lucky, and excited that makes you feel?

Well, I suppose you gush, which is what I’m doing here. And then you go buy the mama, who actually, you know, assembled the baby, some kind of diamond bracelet so big that she’ll have to walk with a crutch. You hear me, honey? A crutch!

What I did this rainy weekend

What, it has to be done simultaneously?

vrex08
Larry sent some last pictures of the Velorex sidecar before it begins its truck journey from Oregon to the still-smoldering plains of waterfront Philly. As well as some cryptic advice:

>
…A couple more things to keep in mind. If you are going get the car out of
> the crate before taking it home, take a sharp utility knife for the pallet
> wrap and cardboard. You’ll also need a pair of dykes to cut the cable ties
>on the tie downs.

What, it has to be done simultaneously?

It’s one of those days on Amtrak

It’s one of those days on Amtrak: oddities abound, and the common theme is, well… I’m not sure, but I bet the French have a word for it. Presented for your consideration:

  • There’s an old high-school classmate of mine sitting in the seat across the way. At least, I think he’s an old high-school classmate. So far, we haven’t exchanged the mutual squint that will embolden one or the other of us to say “aren’t you…?” Frankly, I’m feeling antisocial now, so I don’t plan on doing any squinting in that direction.
  • There’s a rumpled, blonde, untucked-oxford-shirt-with Vans-wearing trust-fund type sitting in the seat next to him. His longboard-style skateboard is rolling around in the baggage compartment overhead, and he’s on his cellphone trying to find a cheap apartment in Geneva for his friend in Cape Cod that just got busted selling cocaine three times to the DA (and getting caught on camera doing it.) He’s dropping the F-bomb every other word: “Fuckin fuck, man, that’s fucked up. Fuckin’ you need to get out of the country. Fuckin’ I can get you a fuckin’ apartment in Geneva, man. You stay in a fuckin’ youth hostel for four years, you get residency…”
  • There’s a disgruntled monthly rider squatting (literally and figuratively) in the bathroom, the door wide open. He’s sitting on the toilet, fully clothed, with the lid down. The conductor came to ask him why he was there, triggering a bristly tirade about how 17 of the last 28 days his train has been late, about how his morning train has been cut from eight cars to five, about how three of those are cafe cars, and how it’s his right to sit in the bathroom, it’s a right, and as long as there’s ten bathrooms on each train he’s gonna ride in one.
  • There’s a French couple sitting on the floor with me (when the train is full, I like to sit cross-legged in the wide-open wheelchair area; the wall reclines, and you have some elbow room to use a mouse.) They are very attractively dressed, but WOW do her feet stink.

All these people are within arm’s reach, literally, and I’d better push “submit” before someone catches sight of the screen.

For a better Amtrak story, go read Nicole’s blog (scroll down to St. Patrick’s day.)

It’s one of those days on Amtrak

U-Haul trucks aren’t very post-apocalyptic.

My fellow BMW Airhead rider Larry in Bend, Oregon, has made final plans for shipping the Velorex sidecar. It’ll be arriving via USF Holland to an intriguingly blank area of Google Maps down by the docks in Philadelphia. If this were Grand Theft Auto 3, you would know to bring a bazooka when traveling down there. As it is, I’ll just wear a knee brace and an Australian scowl. Assuming I can learn an Australian scowl by next Monday.

U-Haul trucks aren’t very post-apocalyptic.

On the Lower East Side, coolness used to be measured by how well you knew Dechen.

Kate and I watched “I Heart Huckabees” this weekend, which I found myself really liking. Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman play existential detectives, hired by flailing environmental activist Albert Markovski to explain a series of odd coincidences in his life. The movie quickly becomes a contest between the integrative, “everything is connected” school of existential philosophy espoused by the detectives, and the nihilistic existentialism peddled by a mysterious French competitor: “Caterine Vauban: Cruelty, manipulation, meaninglessness”, reads her card.

David O. Russell (who also made Three Kings) is the filmmaker. He seems to take himself pret-ty seriously. As this reviewer points out, though, that’s not necessarily a strike against the movie, even if the crew did nickname him “David O. Asshole.” The central philosophical dilemma in the movie — in order to understand ourselves, we must become mindful of our surroundings, not just our needs, and then it’s pretty much up to us whether we want to interpret all the stuff out there as connected and meaningful or disjointed and meaningless — is a pretty well-traveled path. In fact, the way that the positions were phrased seemed pretty reminiscent of the one Buddhism survey class I’ve ever taken, with Uma Thurman’s dad Robert Thurman at Columbia, who describes the differences between mahayana and hinayana buddhism in almost exactly the same way. So I was amused to hear David Russell refer to “Bob” in the director’s commentary as his philosophical mentor at Amherst.

Which brought up an interesting dimension to the movie, for me. A big part of the plot revolves around Jude Law’s charming and smarmy public-relations director attempting to deconstruct the cult of personality he’s worked hard to build up around himself. It’s not easy for him: in one really funny scene, Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin play a tape for him in which he repeats the same self-aggrandizing story about Shanaia Twain and a tuna fish sandwich over and over again: “June 18th, cell phone call.” “June 25th: in the elevator.” This, of course, is any self-conscious blowhard’s worst nightmare (and a reminder that I need to start searching my blog harder to make sure I haven’t told the same story already before.) So it’s interesting to see a blowhard director put one of his blowhard characters through the wringer, and claim as mentor an academic figure with one of the longest shadows, both literal and figurative, on the east coast (like Carl Spackler, Thurman has lots of often-repeated stories about the Dalai Lama, except that his are true. Well, who knows, maybe Spackler’s stories were true too!)

On the Lower East Side, coolness used to be measured by how well you knew Dechen.

Veni, Vidi, Vinca minor

2005-04-09 026I came home from a two-day business trip to Phoenix on Wednesday night to find that Kate and her mom had edged a large flowerbed in the front of the house. This is great news. I love edged flowerbeds because I love mulch. I’m not being ironic in any way, here: I freaking LOVE to mulch stuff, because suddenly your unkempt yard can look like the manicured park outside a dentist’s office. That sounds sarcastic, so let me emphasize: neatly-trimmed, every-blade-in-place lawns and neatly laid mulch speaks to me (and probably all men) at an ancient, primordial level. I’m sure the illusion of control given by landscaping is as old as, well, landscapes: “If I can just rake the gravel outside my cave, I won’t worry so much about getting FREAKING EATEN BY SABERTOOTHED TIGERS.” “There, everything’s nice and neat. Look at the smooth ARRGH IT ATE MY LEG”

Um, anyhow, I’m not sure how crazy I will be allowed to get with the mulch. Besides, there’s plenty of work ahead before the licorice root starts rolling. Right now, the role of the sabertooth tiger is being played by a seemingly innocuous five-foot rhododendron bush, which like all bushes tries to pretend that it won’t be hard to move. Yeah, right; I’m on to its kind, now, and plan to spend twenty minutes every day this week chipping away at its enormous freaking root ball, after which I might just be able to ARRGH IT ATE MY LEG”

Veni, Vidi, Vinca minor

GDI beta report: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

Still on chairs; ground is cold and wet in April!
The weather was unbelievably gorgeous on Saturday — better than I could have hoped for. An army* of intrepid beta-testers for the Guerilla Drive-In arrived, prepared to go to any extreme to work the kinks out of the hardware. Fortunately, the extreme turned out to be nothing worse than a chilly evening and a shortage of side dishes for the hamburgers.

Projector outdoors
For the most part, projecting Ferris Bueller outdoors went off without a hitch: the Navy tripod was rock-steady, the gas generator was adequate, quiet, and lasted through the movie on one tank of gas. The film didn’t break, and at no time did the projector erupt in evil-smelling flames. It turns out that my dad had never seen Ferris Bueller(!), so that was an added bonus.

The FM transmitter was a big disappointment — it only had a range of about 10 feet when hooked up to my ipod (even with fresh batteries.) It didn’t seem to work at all when accepting sound from the projector . Wrong kind of sound output? RF interference from the unshielded projector motor? I’d love to hear from anybody who knows how to make FM transmitters put out a signal in not-strictly-approved wattages. Kate’s dad also suggested an AM transmitter, which is a splendid idea seeing as how the sound is mono already.

But I think everything’s a go for next month. For that, I have three mysterious words for you: Cato’s Freezer Attack.

* Dear Nicole and Dave: now that you have seen what I have described as an “army” of intrepid beta-testers, I am afraid that you have a quantitative metric by which to adjust the grandiose claims made in other parts of this blog. Oh, well, I knew this day was coming.

UPDATE: A quick Google search on “AM transmitters” yielded instant results. Problem solved. Check out these links for the build-it-yourself “Li’l 7” transmitter: Oh, yes. Hell, yes. I have to order a glowing tube from a place called “Antique Electronic Supply“? Better and better. Attention, nerd world: I now have a reasonable excuse to attach a rubber whip antenna and glowing vacuum tubes to an ammo can.

GDI beta report: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

Guerilla Drive-In almost ready to roll

I got my box of parts from John at KMR electronics, and proceeded to thread up the first reel of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which arrived on Monday from Swank in Chicago. As it turns out, my Eiki RT-0 classroom projector, purchased on eBay, had more wrong with it than first appeared. However, I fixed it. Using motorcycle parts. I feel very badass. Yeah, I’m now a superbad AV geek.

So there’s only one showstopper remaining before trying things out this weekend. There’s a quarter-inch speaker jack on the projector: I’m hoping that I can just adapt that to my low-power FM transmitter, and that it will automagically all just work. But I’m feeling pretty good about things; this weekend’s showing is likely to be too cold for enjoyment, but it will be at least an end-to-end test of the whole Guerilla Drive-In shebang: projector, tripod, transmitter, generator. If you’re reading this and you want to come, hit the “contact me” link above for an invite!

Guerilla Drive-In almost ready to roll

“Simple as dirt.” Color-coded Teutonic electro-dirt, that is.

After a year under a tarp in a driveway, my 1977 BMW motorcycle is (very Germanically) requiring me to prove my dedication before permitting me to ride to the train station in the morning. Now that the brakes are sorted, the headlight is acting odd. There are two switches that drive the headlights; one that allows you to turn the headlight on or off during the day; another to select the high/low/passing beam. Different combinations of switches provide different, puzzling (and very much not standard) results; it’s like a game of Mastermind with accidental blasts on the horn to liven things up. And, sometimes, blue sparks when I short things.

Fortunately, the Airheads list continues to be a fount of wisdom from people who see Airhead wiring diagrams on the backs of their eyelids when they go to sleep at night, and they’ve been giving me plenty of advice. For example, an airhead named Joe ‘Cuda says:

>> It’s dirt simple. Juice (+) comes from the battery via a Red wire to the Relay 30, out Relay 87 via a Yellow/White wire to the switch, to the headlight via a Yellow (Low) or White (High) wire, and then to ground via a Brown wire.

While that doesn’t really fit my description of “dirt simple”, the instructions I’ve been getting have been helping me to sort out the electrical connections. It’s a definite contrast to pushing pixels for a living: while it may look like a rat’s nest inside the headlight shell at first, it resolves to a rational (if complex) system of color-coded wires, each bit of which can be individually checked with a multimeter. So I think I’ve got it narrowed down to a bad headlight relay, which means another call to the Amazon of BMW parts.



Update: Just to fully illustrate the detailed, descriptive, and entertaining nature of the help the Airheads provide, here’s the response I got this morning from “Airhead John”:

Nice photos! I can see what you were talking about. In the first photo the headlight shell looks quite clean and the wiring and fuses look to be in good condition.

In the second photo I agree that the mystery wires are going to the turn signals. Rather than fuses, it looks like 2 into 1 connections. I imagine a previous owner (we’ll call him Sparky) put on an ugly fairing of some sort and spliced into the stock turn signal wires to hook up the fairing turn signals. When the next owner (we’ll call him Rico Suavay) bought the bike he wanted the wind blowing through his hair, so he took off Sparky’s ugly fairing and stuffed the turn signal extensions into the headlight. You don’t need that stuff. I would return it to stock. It appears Sparky snipped off the spade connectors on the blue/red and blue/black turn signal wires and crimped on his yellow bodges. If you leave it like you found it, it
won’t hurt anything (except my feelings).

In the third photo, the yellow/white (gelb/weiss) wire should be getting power with the ignition on. It supplies the headlight switch. Although the headlight relay and all the connections look quite clean, they do fail after a few decades. I concur with your diagnosis of a faulty headlight relay.

Good work.

I swear, can you imagine getting this much and this quality of help in other aspects of life?

“Simple as dirt.” Color-coded Teutonic electro-dirt, that is.